Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Who is your lunch lady? And all things related to school lunch

Have you ever stopped to think about who your lunch lady is? If your child buys school lunch you know that they will have become very familiar with the lady that serves them 5 out of 7 days a week during her school year.

Things have changed tremendously since I was a kid and saw the "Grade D- but edible" box of burritos while I was waiting in a  school lunch line. If that box was available these days I would have taken a picture of it and shared it on social media. That pretty much ended my school bought lunch days except for the occasional cinnamon roll or other teenage junk food delight. Although things have changed, they still have a very long way to go. Schools went from making their own meals from scratch, to never making anything in house and purchasing all packaged processed foods. The packaged foods may have gotten "a little bit healthier", but in all honesty they still are processed memories of once upon a time whole clean foods. 
I struggle as a parent to allow my kids to buy school lunch, versus bringing a home packed lunch and it provides me with anxiety throughout the school year. I recently came across this blog posting by another RD and thought it was worthy of sharing. A link to Pam Dannon's blog and site can be found at the bottom of the page. 

 Published: 07/14/2014 
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act: A Top 10 List 

This featured post is by Pam Dannon, EdM, RD.
So far, so good. To date, the meal pattern and nutrition requirements of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) have done some great things for school cafeterias. Here are the top 10 examples of positive changes (in no particular order) and why they are important.

1. Free potable water must be available in all school cafeterias, increasing healthy hydration options.

2. Fruits and vegetables were divided into their own food groups in the new meal pattern, so that both must be offered each day. In the past, students could choose some combination of fruits and/or vegetables. Also, students must take a fruit or veggie for the meal to qualify for reimbursement from the federal government. Furthermore, certain veggie subgroups — dark green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables — must be offered over the course of the school week. These changes have increased the variety of fruits and vegetables offered to students.

3. The minimum amount of grains that must be served each week decreased, as fruits and vegetable offerings increased in the meal pattern, reflective of MyPlate recommendations.

4. The amount of meat or meat alternate that must be offered each week at some grade levels decreased, recognizing that yogurt and some vegetarian options, though lower in protein, can be healthy choices for students.

5. Targets were set for sodium, the first time that must be tracked by menu planners.

6. Calorie ranges rather than minimums were established, ensuring that menus were not too high in calories, averaged over the course of a school week.

7. All milk served in National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) must now be skim or low-fat. Any flavored milks must be skim. This brings down the total fat content of meals, while ensuring students still get the necessary vitamins and minerals for their growing bones.

8. Menu planners now track only saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and calories and no longer track total fat, protein, vitamins A and C, and iron and calcium. Well-planned menus including all the food groups with lean protein and fluid milk tend to keep those nutrients in an acceptable range.

9. Breakfast meal patterns no longer require a meat or meat alternate, allowing students to choose their often preferred two grain (for example, cereal and muffin) options, and allowing schools to offer more grab-and-go breakfast options, which increase participation and get more kids eating breakfast.

10.  Individualized meal patterns were established for the logical age/grade groups of elementary, middle and high school students. In the past, there was a kindergarten through eighth grade meal pattern option, which did not meet the nutrient needs of students at both ends of the range.

Some of these implementations have not been without angst. Fruits and vegetables that must be taken by students, as mentioned in No. 2 above, may be thrown away by students. Also, those increased fruits and vegetables mean greater costs to school food service operations, even though the reimbursement only increased by 6 cents per meal. In addition, sodium targets, which will continually lower until 2020, can be tricky to meet since products are still being reformulated by manufacturers and student palates don’t always agree with low-sodium choices. And effective this school year, 100 percent of grains must be whole grain-rich — meaning they  must be made up of 51 percent or more whole grains — presenting a potential challenge not only for sourcing, but for changing recipes and production methods, and gaining student acceptance.

What's next for the HHFKA? Other than increased whole grain requirements, we will see competitive food regulations, more specific wellness policy regulations, and stepped up nutrition requirements for both breakfast and lunch. Stay tuned!

Pam Dannon, EdM, RD, works in Child Nutrition Services in a mid-size school division for the School Health Initiative Program (SHIP). She also writes a blog, F4: All Things Food and can be followed on Twitter.

We may have a long way to go to meet the best standards ever, but at least it is a work in progress. I encourage each and every reader to get involved with the nutrition side of your child's school. Remember that it is OK to ask questions and provide assistance via the way of a wellness committee and voicing your concerns to school boards and PTO's. The only way things will change is if we as parents take time and ask for change as well as support it when it does happen. Ask your children what they ate for lunch and support them when they make the healthy choices as school. Talk to them about the importance of nutrition so that they can build the healthy habits that they need throughout life. It will be a message that they will prosper and benefit from for many years to come. 

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